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#Alive [2020] - Film - some spoilers

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Director: Cho Il Hyung

Writers: Cho Il Hyung, Matt Naylor

Main Cast: Park Shin Hye, Yoo Ah In












Release Korea: June 24, 2020

Release Netflix: September 8, 2020




Synopsis and Review


South Korea seems to be really into zombies in recent years. So far, there have been the movies Train to Busan (2016), its sequel Peninsula (2020), the Joseon zombie movie The Rampant (2018), and the critically acclaimed Joseon drama series Kingdom seasons 1 (2019) and season 2 (2020). Or perhaps it is because of the current pandemic that I’m drawn to watching movies about zombie infections.  


Now comes another zombie movie #Alive starring Yoo Ah In and Park Shin Hye.  Yoo Ah In plays Jun Woo a young live streaming gamer who wakes up one day to find his family have gone to the market to buy groceries and that his neighbors have started to become violent, cannibalistic zombies.


The most effectively disturbing aspect of the zombie transformation is that it takes several minutes before the zombification happens, and so there are moments of clarity and denial that the infected have before they succumb to the condition. In the intro scene, there is one moving scene of a schoolgirl who calls plaintively for her mother who rushes to hold her and comfort her, only for the daughter to become a zombie who then starts macking down on her mother. Eww.


His family are not able to make it back home, leaving Jun Woo alone and hungry in his apartment. He’s already fended off one neighbor who came in before he transformed, only to transform inside the apartment and attack Jun Woo, so he’s barricaded himself. Watching the news on television and scrolling through his SNS feed, he notices that others have posted messages for help listing where they are. Jun Woo is motivated to do the same, uploading a picture of himself with his address listed on a sign with a tag that says #I must stay alive. This is also the same message that his parents had sent him when they had messaged him that they couldn’t make it back home and he should stay safe and alive no matter what. He sees videos posted by other survivors which frightens him.


He uses his phone mounted on a drone to see his neighborhood and how it’s been taken over by the infected, even as his phone loses service and his battery dies. He’s soon cut off entirely from being online. And, watching other healthy people who venture into the neighborhood get taken down and eaten before they become a zombie themselves.  


The movie follows Jun Woo’s days of barricaded isolation, with both moments of humor and despair. One of the funniest scenes has to do with how he’s trying to find a pair of earphones so that he can make a wire antenna out of it, but he only has the latest wireless earphones.


After 15 days of isolation and fending off zombies who attack his apartment, he hallucinates his family coming home, and that is when he gets a voicemail message from his family that shows that they’ve been overcome by the zombies.  Out of sadness, despair, and hunger, he decides to kill himself. And, as he’s hanging himself, he sees a laser pointer which points out “hello” and then “Idiot”. Looking across, he sees a young woman in an apartment across the way who is calling him an idiot.


The young woman is Yoo Bin who has barricaded herself in her apartment, fending off zombies and just trying to survive herself. She has a pair of binoculars as well as the laser pointer, bringing to mind PSH’s character of Go Dok Mi in Flower Boy Next Door who peeped into her neighbors’ apartments with her binoculars there albeit in a much darker project here than in FBND.


Finding a connection to another human being renews JW his desire to live. There is a rather sweet exchange later as YB confirms that JW is alive because he wants to live rather than because she saved him when he had been at the point of killing himself. It’s a moment where she is shown to have had dark thoughts of her own.


JW and YB are able to pass their days with their newfound connection, sharing food and even managing to share walkie talkies that JW finds in a neighbor’s apartment as he forages for food, so that they can communicate with each other. There are scenes of connection and humor in these scenes of JW and YB.


Ultimately though, their apartments are compromised with hordes of zombies, and they decide to go together to an empty floor in JW’s apartment building, the only floor that is zombie free. YB demonstrates some action packed moves of her own including a jump rappel off her balcony and some impressive fighting skills against zombies before JW joins her to race for the empty floor. They reach it, but unfortunately, that is not the end of their troubles.


Ultimately, I really enjoyed this film despite some flaws, some of it probably due to budget constraints. For instance, the “hordes” of zombies are not necessarily hordes sometimes, but more of a small gang of zombies.

The zombies have different abilities and perceptions, which the movie actually notes via a news report voiceover early on in the movie. However, it’s still somewhat inconsistent in how zombies can zero in on living beings but then are easily distracted away or don’t notice the living person right behind them. I also had an issue with one of the scenarios concerning a man who has managed to put his zombie wife in restraints. When and how the heck was he able to get restraints on his zombie wife in the first place? As much as he loved her, it doesn’t make sense that he did it before she became a zombie or as she was turning into a zombie. And after she became a ravaging zombie who is superstrong and that he’s apparently terrified of, how could he get restraints on her? Anyway, those are minor inconsistencies probably in service to the story.


This movie really relies on Yoo Ah In’s ability to take us down into his befuddlement as it slowly turns into lonely despair in the first third of the movie. Fortunately, he’s a brilliant enough actor that I felt all the emotions that he was feeling on screen and kept me with him. Even the scare scenes worked within his emotional narrative.


When Park Shin Hye joins the movie about a third of the way in, it takes on a note of hopefulness, and the entire movie lightens up as there are more “normal” scenes of a couple getting to know each other albeit under difficult circumstances. It felt like a commentary that people revert to themselves even when under duress, so we get moments of connection and moments of comedy amongst this horror movie. Even the scare scenes have more engagement as they watch each other be endangered with limited ability to help each other.


And, as mentioned, it’s actually PSH’s character who is the more kick butt fighter of the two, a tough veteran of zombie engagements who comments after hacking off the hand of a zombie that she’s never hacked the hand off a person since the zombies are not people.


I appreciated that the movie ends on a note of hopefulness as well as that it utilizes SNS as both a mechanism for foolishness, for avoidance, but also for delivery, depending on how people use it.


I would definitely recommend this movie to a friend to watch with a big tub of popcorn, even it it’s for the sheer pleasure of seeing Yoo Ah In and Park Shin Hye, two veteran actors who take us easily into their journey and who have amazing chemistry together. The plot is relatively basic with only a few new things, so that’s not what necessarily drives this movie.


Grade: A for the casting, B for the plot


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